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Representing Christ in the Workplace

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about two unpleasant things that everybody does, but nobody really likes doing. And no, it’s not death and taxes – although those may be the end result of these two things that we’ve been talking about. We’ve been talking about suffering and submitting:  suffering even when we do what’s right – and submitting to all human authorities that God has placed over us.

Neither of those are things we really enjoy doing – but yet God has called us to do exactly that.

Now if you happen to have missed last week’s message, let me give you a quick recap of some of the main points.

For the last month or so, we’ve been working our way through the book of 1 Peter and one of the big themes of the entire book is that for Christians, this world is no longer home sweet home. As Christians, we have become citizens of a new kingdom – we’ve been transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. And so, as citizens of the Kingdom of God with Jesus as our King, we are now temporary residents and foreigners in this present world.  But we’re not just wandering around through this life aimlessly – waiting to go finally home and be with Jesus. While we’re here, we have a job to do. We are ambassadors for our King. Two weeks ago we read from 1 Peter chapter 2 verse 9 which reads:

“… For you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

We were reminded that as God’s people, as His holy nation living in an unbelieving world – our job to show others the goodness of God. We are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth so that others can come to know and love our heavenly Father just like we do.

But in order to do that – in order to be effective salt and light in this world, Peter tells us in verse 12 of that same chapter…

 “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.” 1 Peter 2:12

We need to make sure that our lives are so far above reproach that even if we are falsely accused of doing wrong – our honourable behaviour will give evidence to the truth. We want to live such different and upright lives that others can’t help but notice and consider the truth of what we believe and live for.

So having said that, Peter goes on to then give us several examples of what that actually looks like in real life. He started with this passage that we read last week:

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. 16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 17 Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.

1 Peter 2:13-17

And I know for a lot of people, this is a hard pill to swallow. Sometimes we have a real difficult time submitting to our governments the other authorities over us – especially when those in positions of authority are evil and corrupt.

But God didn’t command us to submit only to those good and upright and honourable authorities – we are told to submit to ALL human authorities. Keep in mind that when Peter wrote these words, it was the emperor Nero who sat upon the throne. Nero was known for his debauchery, his political murders, and his persecution of Christians. He would ultimately be responsible for crucifying Peter and likely beheading Paul.

But he was the guy in charge when Peter wrote: Submit to all human authorities – whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed.

The only time when we are to disobey those in authority over us is when we are directly commanded to disobey God. In those instances the Bible is clear that we must obey God rather than man. God is our ultimate authority and we must fear and obey Him over all. But even in those instances, where we must disobey our authorities in order to obey God – we must still do that with respect and honor. As Peter says, we are to respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.

So having said that, in our passage today, Peter then goes on to expand on that idea of submitting to all authorities – this time not so much dealing with our governmental authorities, but with those who are over us in our day-to-day work lives.

We pick it up at 1 Peter chapter 2 – starting at verse 18.

18 You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 19 For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.

21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

1 Peter 2:18-21

So the first command Peter gives us here is that slaves are to submit to their masters with all respect. 

Now before we go any further, we should probably ask the question: does this command apply to us today? Because none of us are slaves per se – certainly not in the sense that Peter is talking about. But many of us are employees. We may not have a slave master, but most of us have an employer or a boss or a manager of some kind. Most of us have some kind of authority over us in our work. So does this command to slaves apply to us today as employees?

Well, yes, I think it does. We may not be the exact same situation as a slave – but the principles here very much apply to our workplace.

Remember, Peter is really talking about how we shine the light of God’s goodness to all the people around us. He talks first about citizens shining their light by submitting to their governments. He’s talking now about slaves shining their light by submitting to their masters. In the next chapter, he’ll talk about wife and husbands shining their light in their relationships with each other. In the chapter after that he’ll talk about shining our light to all our non-Christian friends.

That’s the underlying principle here – We are to shine the light of God’s goodness to the people around us – even if that means we suffer for it. So for us as employees, that means we are to display God’s goodness in our workplace by submitting to and respecting our bosses. Even if our bosses are complete jerks!

In fact, Peter says specifically in verse 18…

18 You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 

1 Peter 2:18

I imagine if we sat and swapped stories this morning, between all the different jobs that all of us have worked, we could probably tell quite a few stories about some pretty awful bosses. Bosses that were clueless, bosses that were mean-spirited, bosses that selfish, bosses that were just plain jerks.

And hopefully, most of your bosses weren’t like that. Hopefully, you’ve had some really great bosses too! I know I’ve had some wonderful bosses that I still admire today!

But those bad bosses are out there – and Peter says we are to submit to them with all respect – just the same as we submit to those bosses that we love and admire. We aren’t called just to shine the light of God’s goodness to our wonderful, kind, and reasonable bosses – but we’re called to shine the light of God’s goodness to the cruel, selfish, and unreasonable bosses too.

And that’s hard to do. I know that some of you have had some real frustrations with your bosses over the years. I’ve heard some of your stories.  And what’s worse… some of those bad bosses have even been Bible-believing Christians. I think that makes it even harder.

It’s one thing to endure a bad boss who isn’t a Christian – but its another thing to endure a bad boss who claims to know and love Jesus!

This is a little bit of a rabbit trail here – I know we’re talking about being employees, but let me talk for just a minute about being a boss. If you’re a Christian and you have people working under your authority – you have a responsibility to God to treat them well. Remember you’re representing Christ to the people who work under you! The kind of boss you are should show your employees the kind of King that God is. 

So what does that look like in practical terms? Well, I think for one, God is generous, so pay your employees well. A cheap, stingy person is not a good representation of Christ. Yes, you can be wise with the finances that God has given you – and I think God wants Christians to run businesses that actually make a profit – but not at the expense of the people who work for us. When in doubt, I would always error on the side of generosity! God has given us so much – we have to be generous with the people around us! And when we do that, I think God honours that.

Secondly, God is just and fair – so treat your employees fairly. Give them the time off they deserve, don’t take advantage of them. Treat them like real people made in God’s image. God is love, so treat them with kindness and respect. Don’t bite their heads off when they make a mistake – make it a teachable moment and help them to grow from it.

In other words, as Jesus said:

 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Matthew 7:12

I think that’s great advice for any boss. Actually, that’s not just advice – that a command straight from Jesus. Treat your employees the way you would want to be treated!

But of course, that’s a bit of a rabbit trail – Peter’s not talking to bosses right now – he’s talking to slaves, so let’s get back to that.

And to slaves he says – submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 

Peter goes on to say:

19 For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. 1 Peter 2:19-20

As we strive to shine the light of God’s goodness to our bosses and the other people we work with, Peter says God is pleased with us when we patiently suffer for doing right. If we patiently endure our bosses unjust treatment – or suffer because of his selfishness – or if we have to work overtime to make up for his mistakes (if we do that – consciously choosing to endure that patiently for sake of being a good testimony for Christ) – then God is very pleased that we do that.

Of course, Peter clarifies that if we suffer because of our own foolishness, we don’t get any extra credit for that. I had a hard time thinking of a modern workplace equivalent to a master beating his slave because of some wrong he had done – I think most labor laws today would frown on that…

But here’s an example from my own family. Let’s say I tell Ben to clean his room – and he chooses not to obey, but instead he goes out and plays in the yard. If I then come back and tell him, because you didn’t clean your room, you have to stay home from youth group and clean it up then. In that case, Ben should not expect his patient suffering in missing youth group should be particularly pleasing to God.

Peter is saying that that’s not the kind of suffering that earns you any extra credit. You’re simply facing the consequences of your own poor choices – you’re not suffering for the sake of being a good testimony for Christ! So no extra credit for that.

But when we patiently endure unjust suffering for the sake of Christ, God is pleased with us. Why? Because we’re doing exactly what His Son Jesus did. Peter continues in verse 21:

21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

[ Then Peter goes on to quote from Isaiah 53 ]

22 He never sinned,

    nor ever deceived anyone.

23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,

    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.

He left his case in the hands of God,

    who always judges fairly.

24 He personally carried our sins

    in his body on the cross

so that we can be dead to sin

    and live for what is right.

By his wounds

    you are healed.

25 Once you were like sheep

    who wandered away.

But now you have turned to your Shepherd,

    the Guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

Peter reminds us that when we suffer for doing right, we are simply following the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus was the ultimate example of suffering for doing right.

First of all, he never sinned. Ever. He was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. If anyone deserved not to suffer – it was Jesus! He spent his time going around helping people – curing their diseases and healing their sickness – he fed the hungry, he loved the unloveable. He never sinned or deceived anyone. But yet, sinful men treated Him terribly!

They falsely accusing Him. They arresting Him. Beat him. Whipped him. Spat in his face. Smashed a crown of thorns onto his head. Struck him with their fists and with a stick. And finally they led him out of town and crucified him – nailing him to a cross where he was left to die.

This is how they treated the sinless Lamb of God. And how did he react?

23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,

    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.

He left his case in the hands of God,

    who always judges fairly.

1 Peter 2:23

That always amazes me. I wish I had that same kind of absolute faith in God so that when I’m insulted, I don’t need to retaliate. When I suffer at the hands of others, I don’t need to take revenge or even fight back. I can just leave my case in the hands of God – knowing that He always judges fairly.

That’s what Jesus did. And he’s the example that we are to follow. In fact, Luke says that right in the middle of all of all his suffering, as they nailed Jesus to the cross….

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

Is that how you and I respond when people wrong us? When people treat us unfairly? When people take advantage us of or hurt us? Do we pray “Father, forgive them, for don’t know what they’re doing.”

Do we leave our case in the hands of God – knowing that He is God – and in the end, He will always judge fairly?

Jesus did. And do you know what happened because He did? Peter tells us that, too…

24 He personally carried our sins

    in his body on the cross

so that we can be dead to sin

    and live for what is right.

By his wounds

    you are healed.

25 Once you were like sheep

    who wandered away.

But now you have turned to your Shepherd,

    the Guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

Had Jesus refused to suffer – had He instead called 10,000 angels to come down and wipe out all those evil men and save him from the cross (he certainly could have done that). But had He done that – none of our sins would be forgiven. None of us would have the promise of eternal life. Without his suffering and death on the cross, we would remain condemned to an eternity apart from Him.

But thankfully, Jesus did carry our sin in his body on the cross. He suffered and died so that we could live. By his wounds, we are healed.

And now that we have turned to our Shepherd – the guardian of our souls – God has calls us to follow the footsteps of Jesus.

21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21

In light of all that Jesus has done for us, it seems a pretty small thing for us to take an insult for the sake of Christ. It seems a pretty small thing to endure unfair treatment by our boss – so that we can be a faithful testimony for Jesus.

In fact, we should be glad when such opportunities arise. As odd as it may seem, it is a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ.

If we were to jump ahead a couple chapters from where we are in 1 Peter, Peter says this in chapter 4:

12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

14 If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you… it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! 

1 Peter 4:12-14, 15b

This morning we’re going to celebrate communion together – we’re going to celebrate and praise God for the privilege of being called by His name. It is indeed a privilege to be called a “Christian” – a Christ-one. There are some who may call us Christians as a insult – but it is an honour and privilege to follow his footsteps – even if it means suffering for His sake.

Because the fact is that Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to suffer and die for our sake.

The bread that we eat and the cup that we drink together in communion reminds that Jesus was willing to endure his body being broken and his blood being spilled – so that we could have life forever with Him.

Sharing communion together reminds us of just how much Jesus was willing to suffer for our sake – and it reminds us that there may be times when we must be willing to suffer for his sake.

 

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